Monday, February 1, 2016

German women storm town halls & other carnival customs

A group of female town employees, some masked, gather one Thursday morning outside of the mayor's office. At least two or three are armed with scissors, another carries a heavy champagne bottle by the neck - a formidable weapon in experienced hands.

Too early, whispers one, 11:11 - countrywide. 

In old Hollywood movies, they would now synchronize their wrist watches with a mix of gravitas and anticipation.

Instead, they just look at their smartphones.


One opens the door to the secretary's office, the others rush in, turn towards the mayor's office and repeat the drill. The ladies start to shout as they rush the chief executive's office. To foreign ears, their cry sounds like some sort of battle cry, nothing you'd learn in the six weeks of "integration course" German lessons. Sounds like "all off and hey, laa", a source told the blogster. ** The secretary, in on the plans, silently picks up her government issued scissors and follows the group into the chief's office.

The mayor is sitting at his desk, with a wry smile, both hands on the desk as two women with scissors raised close in on him, one from either side of the broad desk, blocking his escape.

One of the ladies grabs his tie, lifts it, and with one swift, experienced move, cuts the tie just inches from his chin.

Out, out, out!

The mayor gets up and takes a step towards the door. "Here, don't forget your coat", the secretary says, handing him his jacket. With the gait of a man resigned to defeat but certain of a reversal of fortune in his favor, the mayor steps outside into a chilly German February day to declare the ladies' takeover of the town to the assembled press and local citizens.

Champagne cork pops, glasses appear out of nowhere.

This, more or less, describes the ritual in many German towns and cities on the Thursday before the final week of carnival. The temporary outing of the mayor as well as managers in other government administrations and companies is a long standing tradition. Contrary to the beliefs of some nay sayers, the tie cutting is not sponsored by German or international tie makers.

It merely symbolizes the loss of power - and the loss of a male appendage.

Before you ask: no, the blogster has no idea what form the ritual takes if the mayor is a woman. But, promise, we'll find out for you.

American officials in Germany go through the same ritual if they have local national employees. Some stubborn ones are known to have refused, most play along.

Everybody knows carnival is a time of sanctioned excess, of temporary madness, but the sexual side normally does not make the news in any sort of explicit explanation. It's understood - from the very short dresses in freezing weather to the loud, drunk hugging and kissing of strangers.

Then there are the usual suspects in the clash of cultures: blackface is still common during German carnival. And so are Wild West floats with a noose.

In 2016, however, things are different, according to this article in Zeit online. German towns and cities feel the need to explain the native customs to refugees, so flyers in Arabic and other languages are being handed out.

The need for an explanation can be understood better against the widespread molestation of and attacks on women on new year's eve in several cities, among them one of Germany's biggest carnival cities, Cologne.

The blogster has not seen any of the flyers, but according to the article, the sexual side of the festivities may not be explained well enough.

By next week, we'll know.

Given the current climate in the country, there will probably be some less than cheerful headlines, some reports of transgression by "people from a migrant background".

But, as long as tabloid BILD and others don't single out the second generation immigrant ladies mingled in with their German co-workers, scissors in hands, we can hope that this year's days of debauchery go well.

[Update 2/1/2016] Added: "Then there are noose"

** Those chants are actually "Alaaf" and "Helau", two of the regional carnival greetings.

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